Monday, September 23, 2013

Consequential Lyrics #5: The Smiths

There was a time when I enthusiastically advertised my adoration for The Smiths song, Rubber Ring. I always sure to provide that auspicious caveat that I would never outgrow the Smiths. I rebuffed those introductory lyrics: A sad fact widely known, the most impassionate song to a lonely soul is so easily outgrown. I'm certain that there were many others like me who were determined to reassure themselves that The Smiths were not just a phase, a fascination stemming from teen loneliness. Now, I can't help but view Rubber Ring as Morrissey's provocative statement, trolling the reverence of the faithful Smiths fan. To me, it's almost akin to a highly cherished (yet extremely insecure) lover baiting you in a snarl: "You'll get over me, you'll forget me when I'm gone."

Yet, in returning to The Smiths in this episode of Consequential Lyrics, I can't help but feel like there is a kernel of truth in Morrissey's prediction. It's a struggle to define exactly what I mean by that, because it is not as if I don't still love them. Their music and lyrics continue to be very important, but somehow it seems to lack that closeness it once had. I think back to when the lyrics was distressingly relevant: when loneliness, yearning and affinity seemed to be a central concern, when disastrous nights out seemed to be more prevalent. I assumed that its resonance had diminished because I don't live like that anymore. I don't think like that anymore. It's strange and it all makes me wonder whether lyrics really need to have that contemporary relevance in order to be truly consequential.

It's been suggested to me that it's not really a matter of relevance, more an issue of personal acknowledgement. For some, it can be especially difficult to acknowledge painful memories, those feelings that are recalled when we listen to songs like I Know It's Over and Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want. The intimacy of Morrissey's lyricism can be distressing at times and the fact that these songs often take place within the adolescent bedroom serves to intensify that intimacy. It's important to have that idea of Morrissey as the adolescent fan and loner, it's important because it clearly demonstrates that he's been where "you" are now. He adores Sparks and The New York Dolls as you adore The Smiths and he gets it, he genuinely understands what it is to identify and obsess.

More than anything, it's important to preserve that idea of Morrissey as the adolescent fan and loner because eventually, he found someone that cured him: he met Johnny Marr. For my friends and I, The Smiths represented this prospect of an intensely brilliant creative partnership. We would analyse Morrissey and Marr: their oddly non-confrontational collaborative methods involving Johnny pushing a cassette tape through Morrissey's postbox, Marr's evident annoyance when he said he wrote this beautiful, rambling guitar line and then Morrissey called it Some Girls are Bigger Than Others. It was hardly an ideal partnership but you could see the love, you could see the affection in all those photographs of them together, draped over one another. We looked to them because it was the kind of connection we had always yearned for. We had always yearned for something as precious and as rare as their love for one another.

The Smiths lack that contemporary relevance because I no longer have that desire to have a Marr to my Morrissey (or a Morrissey to my Marr). I suppose that stings a little, because it was something that I had always wanted, something that I felt like I had always needed in order to be successful. I now see that intensely brilliant creative partnership is a kind of luxury, a myth that suggests a Marr could just rock up on your doorstep and fill the cracks in your head and your heart. But maybe that shift in attitude means that The Smiths are more probably relevant than they ever were, in all my years of loving them. It hurts to listen to them because they remind me of the hope I had and the hope I lost.

For we cannot cling to those old dreams anymore...

Consequential Lyrics #5: The Smiths
Rubber Ring
Pretty Girls Make Graves
How Soon is Now?
Girl Afraid
There is a Light That Never Goes Out
Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me
I Won't Share You

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